Project Unbreakable

Grace Brown created "Project Unbreakable" in October, 2011, and the tumblog appears to really be gathering momentum. The idea: "Use photography to help heal those who were sexually abused by asking them to write a quote from their attacker on a poster and photographing them holding the poster."

So many stories from so many different people. Men, too, not only women. I was so moved by this post, which includes both a photograph and an audio narrative by an elderly woman who was sexually abused as a 12-year-old girl during World War II in Germany. Do listen to her story.

"You can never forget it. It is in your brain, marked like a stamp," she says. "I still suffer from it."

(via Jay Rosen)


  1. I submitted to this a while ago! Thank you for giving it a wider audience. It was one of the most healing things I’ve ever done.

  2. needs to be done, but for the love of god, could I get a unicorn chaser, please?

    Edit: n/m just saw the “First World Cat Problems” post…

  3. Grace Brown and I have a mutual friend, who was just telling me about this project last week. Very cool to see this posted here!

  4. I think they should allow one more format,  photos at the age the person was molested and what was said. I submitted mine. 

    “Why are you crying, your brother and sister don’t cry”. ~Neighborhood molester. 

    1. Agreed.  Whenever I hear someone blaming themselves, I tell them to go to a school and look at children who are the age they were.  Victims are taught to self-blame…..when you look at a group of actual 12 year olds (or 8 year olds, or 15 year olds) you realize how young and innocent you actually were.

      1. So weird that you said that. When I was 15, my sister called me and asked me to take over her babysitting gig, she was sick. When I got there, she was drying the little boy off, he was five, I’m five in the photo too. When she dropped the towel and I saw his cherubic nudity, I had a nervous breakdown. I hadn’t ever seen a naked little boy before.  I saw myself, it really freaked me out. 

        The first time I saw a full grown man completely shaved, I had the same reaction, I freaked out. Why would a grown man choose to  look like that, a pink helpless  newborn mouse? 

  5. I was molested by my Father in my teens in an unusual manner. I had really bad acne, so he would pin me down on the bed in my parents’ bedroom with his body and pop my pimples like he was removing ticks from a dog. He did this in a very vacant, but methodical manner, like I was a piece of livestock for up to 30 minutes at a time. My guess he would get off on the power trip of doing this in the same bed he shared with my Mother and use the rush to get off when having sex with her. The irony is he didn’t start doing this until AFTER he became sober, so I have to assume he was seeking other escape mechanisms to run away from his demons, since transferring his addiction from alcohol to Alcoholics Anonymous wasn’t doing it for him. I knew there was something sexual to what he was doing to me even though there was no usual sexual contact, but molestation is really about power above all, which he had over me until I left for college.

    1. I’ve heard of this before, but it was tickling, relentless torturous tickling. It’s a safe way to abuse someone. Think about it: “I don’t want to go home, my dad tickles me.” Do you know how many laughs you would get? 

       I get retraumatized all the time whenever I bring up being molested by my stepbrother, who was sadistic in his attacks. The problem, I’m gay. I wasn’t then though, or I didn’t realize it, I was 12 and he was 18. Warning, if you’re a gay male and was molested, don’t tell other gay men, most of them have two questions “Was he good looking” or “Did he have a big cock”. I even had one boyfriend who wanted me to talk about it during sex, the story aroused him. 

  6. The look in that girl’s eyes in the photo for this post is so heartbreaking i can’t believe it.  Thank you for posting this, Xeni.

  7. “Use photography to help heal those who were sexually abused”
    I know the intentions are good with all this, but someone close to me was profoundly molested over 40 years ago and the healing is still going on. In fact, I can honestly say that a complete “healing” will probably never happen.

    To me, simple “pop culture” fixes like holding up a piece of paper with passionate words scribbled on them is perhaps insulting to those who have been molested (it is to me, who knows one who was molested)

    In other words, it’s not as simple as this. Take it from someone who lives very near the absolute horror of molestation

    This site may resonate with some people. Not with me.
    I”m sorry, but this is simple-minded and shallow

    1. I think at the very least you should accept that this has been therapeutic for other people — these survivors wouldn’t participate if it weren’t — and that some of us found the project very, very enlightening. I was lucky enough to get through life without any abuse issues. So seeing the words of these people’s abusers held to light was quite an experience for me — I’ve been removed from the abuser’s mentality all my life, so it’s been real easy to think, “Oh, it can’t be as bad as all THAT, can it? People CAN’T possibly cause that kind of harm that casually and knowingly.” And I think that naivete has been shattered in me for good, thanks to Project Unbreakable. Can we at least agree that that’s a good result, even if you don’t like this kind of project in general?

      I understand why you have reservations about this project, and you have all my sympathy about the abuse you yourself have suffered, but I think “simple-minded and shallow” is a little unkinder than is strictly called for here. Please, at the very least, accept that people — including me — are vouching this site is doing SOME good, all right? I *really* don’t want to fight over such a sensitive issue, nor in any way invalidate your opinion. I don’t think you’re off-base at all for having concerns. But I would like you to be a little more sensitive towards survivors who HAVE been helped by this site, and have testified to that effect.

      1. As I stated, I know the intentions are good. I ONLY ever speak for myself and of course people are always allowed to do what they want in these delicate matters.

        Secondly, I myself did not suffer abuse

        Thirdly, I stated (above) that this “Project Unbreakable” site may resonate with some people. But not me.When I was told my friend was molested (by my friend) I was told directly…not by means of Post-It Notes and Sharpies.To each his/her own, I suppose. But to me, this is similar to seeing peace signs and “Make Love Not War” graffiti on walls.
        Such graphics are a very rudimentary entrance point to dealing with war. To think these hand-made signs and notes (regarding molestation) are any sort of grand path to healing is naive. That’s what I think

        You’re asking me to be “more sensitive” towards survivors. I see and interact with a survivor every day.
        I talk to this survivor. I understand very little of what they’ve gone through. And we’ve talked and talked about the sad, bad memories. The pain (big pain) will always be there.

        A Post-It note  with a bit of thoughtful scribble is just a tiny bandage.
        Maybe a website full of Post-It notes will help. I’m doubtful.
        But folks deal with these things their own and often odd ways

        best of luck

        1. Do you not think that the simple act of being able to speak of the event, out in the open, and in a sense of solidarity with many other survivors, could be a very positive experience for many – allowing them to shed at least a tiny bit of the taboo, loneliness and voicelessness that often surround these experiences?

          1. Making a sign and having someone take your picture holding the sign is hardly bringing things “out in the open” – personally, if I had something important to say about my life, the Internet would be the very last place I’d say it.
            And I definitely wouldn’t hold a Post-It note in order to express myself on the Internet. But, that’s just me.I just noticed there’s a small disclaimer on the site stating that:”Grace, or anyone involved with this project, is not qualified to give certified advice on this subject”

            Yet, the webmasters claim they’re “using photography to help heal those who were sexually abused”How exactly is this photographic healing taking place? Does looking at photos heal? This is new to me.Does the mere act of placing photos (of survivors and their signs) on a website “help heal” a person.If this is not the case, then the photos should be represented as simply photosthat may or may not “help heal” the sexually abused. Or the photos could besimply represented as social web entertainment or as an art project.

          2. …if I had something important to say about my life, the Internet would be the very last place I’d say it.

            And you are clearly proving you have nothing important to say in any way as well.

          3. Thanks for sharing your feelings on the Internet about the reasons why you feel sharing your feelings on the Internet is a bad idea, jerryeast.

        2. “A Post-It note  with a bit of thoughtful scribble is just a tiny bandage.”

          That’s a funny analogy, because bandages help promote and speed healing.  The bandages alone don’t do it, your immune system does, but they encourage it greatly.  I can very much see how this project would be exactly like a tiny bandage, one which helps you deal with the horrors of abuse.  Speaking as a victim, I think it’s great.  Perhaps you should see that other people have a different perspective than your own.

        3. It’s fucking powerful if the molester sees it, they will be shitting their pants. 

          “Statute of limitation is determined by state law. Statute of limitation is the time period within which you must file criminal charges or file a civil claim. If you do not file criminal charges or file a civil claim within the statute of limitation, then you loose the right to do so. However the law allows for tolling of the statute of limitation. Tolling suspend the date from which from which the statute of limitation begins to run. The statute of limitation can be tolled due to a legal disability or operation of law. Being a minor is generally considered a legal disability. The US criminal justice system recognizes the power imbalance between victims and perpetrators of child molestation. The victims can easily be intimidated by the perpetrator. The perpetrator is generally in a position to exercise power and control over the victim and can confuse or threaten the victim to remain silent. Often the victim may be too young to realize what has happened or will be unaware of what to do. Most states have an extended statute of limitation for sexual offenses against children. In some states there is no statute of limitation for such offences. In most states the statute of limitation for child molestation will depend on many factors such as the time elapsed from the date of the offence, the date on which the victim attained majority, the date of which the victim came to know about the crime, etc. ”


    2. Just because it’s not meaningful to you doesn’t mean that it won’t be meaningful to others.

      1. Exactly.  I’d also argue that there’s an additional support being offered:  to kids who are being abused NOW, so they can recognize that the same lies and manipulations are told over and over again.  “Hey, that’s just like what my dad says to me when he does it.”

        1. Not only that, if anyone recognizes the victims on the site and weren’t aware they’ve been molested, I guarantee  you they are going to find out or may have some idea who it is.

    3. You’re ridiculous. A project like this is bringing more awareness to the issue.  Simple statistics like “1 in 10 are etc, etc, etc…” affect some people, but don’t work for others.  This puts a face & image to the statistics & that is powerful.  Adding a short message describing what happens makes it more shocking.

      What I found profound about this is the amount of folks describing their sexual abuse at the hands of others when they were less than 10 years old.  Most people don’t know or don’t want to face that twisted reality.

      1. I almost see this photo project as Alcoholics Anonymous and the way AA attempts to cure people of alcoholism (“I am Susie and I was abused”) – the mode of healing rests and relies on some sort of magical, cathartic “coming out” (ie: showing a Post-It note on the Internet) – I DO believe this method has short term good effects (at the very least, people may feel better about their abuse situation for a day or two) – at the very least this project shows that abuse victims are not alone. But still, to promote this site and these photos as some sort of gateway to “healing” is really unfair to abuse victims. Even a lifetime of hard work may not rid one of the memories and thoughts of the original crime. Abuse victims have been taken advantage of enough.

        1. Every moment of you life is a “gateway to healing” if you have something to heal from, and that’s just living life. The only person who seems to think that this project expects that these people are, like, magically cured of all other issues after posting a picture of themselves is you. Wonder why that is?

        1. Yeah it does, because these people are speaking for themselves, and if you have issues with that then you have deeper issues.

    4. By the way these aren’t random “passionate words” and if you missed that point then I hope your abused friend has friends who are better at listening than you are.

  8. My friend participated; she’s holding a sign quoting a female NYPD police sergeant who said, “I’m just glad I’m not a woman like you.” After she was raped, and the police were leaving the scene, she sat on the curb and screamed and cried at the top of her lungs until they finally agreed to take her to a hospital. She’s had to deal not just with the rape, but with a police department that tried to ignore her. It’s been about a year and a half since it happened, and it has been a daily struggle for her. The last week has been tremendously healing for her, thanks to Project Unbreakable. (In the interest of full disclosure, I donated to Project Unbreakable to thank Grace Brown, and so that she might help more people.)

    Jerryeast calls this a pop culture fix, and insulting. He’s entitled to his opinion. As he has pointed out, he ONLY speaks for himself, and he’s not a victim. He thinks it’s simple-minded and shallow, but I’m sure he wouldn’t deny my friend the chance to take control of the words that were used to hurt her. My friend, despite suffering from PTSD and depression in the last year and a half, is also a four-time Jeopardy champion, a former school librarian, and is currently working towards a Ph.D in psychology. So I think she’s more capable of deciding what’s best for her than Jerryeast is. And I’m sure Jerryeast would agree.

    Meredith came out publicly this morning. You can read more about her experience at

  9. Look at how banal and cliched all the things that abusers have to say are. I wish this shit were cartoonish supervillainy — it’s so fucking ordinary and awful. Hannah Arendt was right about evil being banal.

  10. I’m torn. 
    As a survivor of sexual abuse this is bound to stir up a lot of complex emotions for me, so it’s hard to actually figure out how I feel about it.

    As someone who offers my time on a support line for other survivors – I am wary of the fact that that Grace, though clearly and appropriately stating that she is not qualified to offer advice or support, is still placing herself in the position of doing so – and in several instance I have read on the blog has offered advice or asked someone to contact her personally.

    It’s a really tough thing to set boundaries in this area – especially because survivors are people who have had their own boundaries severely violated, and are as such rarely good at setting them for themselves. People who have been injured in this traumatic way need to know who can and cannot help them, and need people’s actions to be consistent with that information.

    It’s incredibly difficult to have to tell someone that you are incapable of helping them, especially when their need is so clearly urgent.

Comments are closed.